Valuable life skills

Valuable life skill no. 5 - How to pack a horse trailer

Valuable life skill no. 7 – How to pack a horse trailer

Over the past 382 days I have accumulated and honed a set of very unique life skills.  Unfortunately, most of these just didn’t seem to fit in to my resume, so I thought I’d list them here.

 Life skills that should make me a more employable person but are most likely sadly underestimated:

  1. The ability to manoeuvre one or more suitcases in a variety of intricate fashions.  Including but not limited to; getting a large suitcase and accompanying hand luggage into an airport toilet cubicle, down stairs, up stairs, along 2km of cobbled streets, into elevators, onto escalators, onto buses, etc.
  2. The ability to dig a rainwater ditch. Because there comes a time at every horse show when someone has to do it.
  3.  The ability to accurately judge wind speed, direction, and velocity. Because when you’re mucking paddocks and flinging manure into the wheelbarrow, you want it to land in the wheelbarrow, and not fly back in your face.
  4.  The ability to PROPERLY coil rope, hoses, and electrical cords. Because if you don’t do it properly, there’s nothing more annoying than trying to untangle them.
  5. The ability to remember several different timezones simultaneously and coordinate phone calls and Skype calls accordingly. So I’m basically be qualified as a secretary now, right?
  6.  The ability to pack large amounts of stuff into one suitcase and one carry-on bag. Also known as suitcase tetris.
  7.  The ability to pack a horse trailer. Sounds easy, but you try fitting 16 bales of hay and 12 bags of shavings in a trailer so that a) the horses don’t eat the hay and b) you still have enough room to fit in the rest of the gear AND get the horses up the ramp.  Also known as trailer tetris.
  8. The ability to film/take pictures whilst riding. And actually have the pictures turn out half-decent.
  9. The ability to do currency conversions mentally. Because if you can’t do this when you’re shopping internationally, you’ve got a problem.
  10.  The ability to sleep on planes, buses, trains, couches, and similar places. Because when you’ve got two 13 hour flights back to back, you need that sleep wherever you can get it.

 

Valuable life skill no. 8 - how to take decent pictures whilst riding.

Valuable life skill no. 8 – how to take decent pictures whilst riding.

 

The in between

Sitting at my gate lounge in Abu Dhabi waiting for my last flight home, I have a bit of time to reflect and recount the happenings of the past few days.  They were filled with packing and organising and putting away jumps and riding – dressage, jumping, trot sets, gallop sets, and hacks.  They were also filled with goodbyes.

Yesterday (or was it today?) I said the hardest goodbyes of all.  I said goodbye to several humans, two dogs, and one very special horse.  I cried many tears, and held back many more.  The hugs were never ending.  The gratitude flowed endlessly.

When people encourage others to go overseas, to travel, and to live and work abroad, they tell you about all the fabulous things you’ll experience – the great memories, the friendships, the amazing times to be had.  But what they don’t tell you is how hard it is to leave.  Particularly with another 16 hours of travel before I return home to my family and friends, I feel like I am in the ‘in between’ –  unable to let go of what I’m leaving but also unable to grab hold of what’s waiting for me, because I’m not there yet.

Despite the emotional trauma, I can’t forget the amazing experiences and memories I have made along the way, and I know these will keep me going when things get even tougher.  Stay tuned for a more detailed account of the final days in Aiken.

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Home is where the heart is

With just four days until I go home, life is starting to feel a little weird.  What will it feel like to not have to muck a barn every morning? How am I going to re-adapt to driving on the left hand side of the road? (Sydney, consider yourself warned.)  How am I possibly going to survive without my Rock – my new four-legged best friend, the horse that has seen me through so much, and that brings so much happiness to my life?  All of these are questions that I have to wrestle with, at the same time that I consider how excited I am to go home and see my friends and family again.

You see, the thing about travelling and living abroad is that it changes your sense of home.  No longer do I have just one home, and one family, I have several.  No matter where you are, you will always be missing one of them, and the more you travel, the more you experience, the thinner you spread yourself.  You never stop having to think about what timezone you’re in, or what slang you’re using, because one or more of your families are on the other side of the world.  Inconvenient, no?

Although it is heartbreaking to leave another family behind, it’s the sadness that reveals how much they have changed me, and how important they are to me.  I will miss the humans, yes, but also the horses and dogs that have made every day a joy to experience.

I started this journey with a sense of anticipation, and I was anxious to answer one important question I had for myself.  After so much time away from riding, would I still love it as much as I once had? Or had I already succumbed to the all-too-common teenage affliction that results in horse-crazy young girls losing interest and pursing other things in life, like a normal social life?  Without even realising it, I have answered that question for myself ten times over.  I still have the drive and the passion for horses, as much as I ever did.  I lived, breathed, and slept horses for the past year, and loved it.  Although I felt like a little bit of a gypsy this year, living out of a suitcase, I know now I had one true home all along, and that home will always be in the saddle.

Home is where the heart is

For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.

P.S – Here’s a video of my show jumping round from Full Gallop Horse Trials, having a blast on the Rock.

Show jumping on the Rock

Full Gallop and the final countdown

For those of you waiting with bated breath to see how we did at our event yesterday, let’s cut straight to the chase – we were 5th!

It was a crazy day for us with 7 horses competing, so I had my work cut out for me in the morning grooming for everyone else – luckily I had a late dressage time and very late jump times.  Our other horses all did really well, and we ended up coming home with a few other ribbons too.  So when the time came I put on my borrowed jacket, shirt, stock tie, hairnet (so civilised!) and saddle and off we went to warm up.  The Rock was feeling great and performed beautifully, so off we headed to the ring.  We had a fairly nice test, despite breaking gait in the walk (typical) and cantering into the trot transition, and goal #1 was achieved: Don’t lose your way in the dressage test.

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So then we had a 2 hour wait before the jumping phases, and I camped out at another trailer while the rest of the horses were taken home and everyone came back to watch me.  Our jumping warm up wasn’t great to start with a bit of rushing at the jumps, and it took a while to get the right approach and jump but eventually we were ready to go.  We got a good canter to the first jump so I sat and waited, and the Rock sped off into the course.  She was on fire and the distances just flew up to meet us.  Although I knew it was a bit too fast, I opted to let her out on the approach to the fence, rather than pull too much on the face and risk a rail.  It paid off and we raced around clean, with 20 seconds to spare on the clock.

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We went straight over to cross country and did one practice jump before heading to the start box.  Predictably, the Rock was wriggling all over with excitement and couldn’t wait to get in the box, but to her credit, stood relatively still while I started my watch (yes, I wore a watch for Beginner Novice, because our biggest problem was sure to be going too fast).  We were counted down and off she roared to the first jump.  Just like the show jumping phase, as soon as I was out of two-point and back in the saddle, she raced off to the fence and soared over.  I hauled her back for a wide turn to the second which came up much smoother, and started slowing again to the third.  Looking down, I noticed my reins had become twisted, so I flipped them over and accidentally swiped the Rock across the neck.  She considered this very unjust and didn’t hesitate to let me know by letting out a buck or two. I swear, if she had a voice, she would have been yelling at me to calm down and just let her do her job.  It left me shaking my head and laughing all the way over jump four.  We rolled around the middle section of the course, making huge sweeping turns as I came down to the gap in the tree-line – the wrong gap! I managed to slow the Rock enough to make a good turn to the bank and we continued on without any more navigational mishaps!  Through the water I managed to slow down enough for a strategic trot, since we were way too fast, before tackling the last section of the course.  We got four strides in between the ditch and the house, which had walked a forward five, just to give an indication of our speed.  After the rails on the top of the bank I managed to slow to a nice collected canter which put us just ten seconds off the optimum time.  I was ecstatic passing through the finish line – goal #2 achieved: don’t fall off, and finish the event!  Special thanks go to everyone that came to support me at the end of a long day, to my talented Rolex-bound friend Rachel McDonough for warming me up for dressage, to my cheer squad/photographers/videographers, and to my awesome coach Momo for all her hard work in preparing the Rock and I for this event.

Despite some harsh judging, we finished on our dressage score of 43.2, and here’s a few pictures of how much fun I had doing it! (Stay tuned for video!)

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In other news, today marks exactly one year since I left home, and exactly fifteen days until I leave to go home.  I am completely torn – I don’t want to leave, but I can’t wait to go home.  I’m preparing for a complete shock to the system, but also trying not to think about it and just enjoy the time I have left.  I can’t wait to see my family, but I can’t bear to leave behind my Canadian family.  As always, I will just have to go with the flow and see what the future brings.

Get out of the saddle

I had many goals for my year abroad.  Goals for personal development, goals for places to go and see, and goals for my riding.  I wanted to become a better horse person, and a better rider.  One specific goal I set for myself was that I wanted to improve to the point where I was capable of riding at the Preliminary level.  (Australians, that’s our Novice level).  Given that I hadn’t even completed an event at the lower levels yet, it must have seemed like a bit of a long shot.  I certainly got that impression from my coach.  But as with most people, the more you get the impression you’re being discouraged from doing something, the more determined you are to do it.  And yesterday my determination paid off.  It’s over the past few weeks that I have become more and more in tune with all of the Rock’s buttons and quirks.  In short – I’ve finally worked out how to put my leg on to the base of a jump, and as a result, we’ve been schooling bigger and bigger fences, to the point where we jumped a small Preliminary course.  And yesterday came the icing on the cake.  We went to an amazing cross-country course up at Gibbes Farm, and ended up schooling over a whole bunch of Preliminary fences.  “Get out of the saddle!” my coach called to me after I started over the first fence.  “It’s not dressage!”  So out of the saddle I got, and after that there was no stopping us.  Coffins, banks, drops into water, and plenty of combinations later, the five of us started our leisurely walk back to the trailer in good spirits, and it wasn’t until then that my coach pointed something out to me.  “You know,” she said, “you achieved your goal today.  You got to ride Prelim.”  In the few seconds that followed, the realisation of what she had said started to sink in.  I had achieved my goal.  I had ridden around a bunch of these jumps, jumped them well, and had the time of my life doing it.  I will freely admit I got a little teary, and was overwhelmed with gratitude for the amazing horse that has made it all possible for me.  The Rock had the time of her life jumping around, and that just made it all the more enjoyable.  Unfortunately, for all those interested, there are no photos, and no videos, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

 

The Sweetie was piloted around her second cross-country school by a client, and conducted herself exceptionally.  Everyone in our group rode brilliantly after being challenged with some difficult fences and we had a fantastic time on such a beautiful course.  It’s days like this that make me never want to leave.  Even getting lost on the interstate after stopping for lunch was an adventure with the right company.  But if my gap year has taught me anything, it’s the importance of getting out of your comfort zone.  Just like getting out of the saddle, it puts you in a position where you’re capable of meeting your challenges head-on, and well-equipped for the ride.  Of course, it helps if you have a partner that’s as amazing as the Rock.  To her goes the biggest thank you.

 

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Lastly, this weekend I am chasing another goal – to complete an event! Wish us luck as we tackle Full Gallop Farm Horse Trials on Sunday 🙂

Another (productive) day in paradise

I’m down to my final month of my adventure, and if I thought things would wind down a little, boy was I wrong!  With our coach and fellow working student away for 5 days, manning the fort is proving to be a more full-on job than first expected.  I have just started putting together resumes for several job applications at home, and always find it frustrating how easy and uncomplicated working with horses looks on paper.  Things like “turn in/turn out, feeding, grooming, assistance at shows, and barn chores” do not adequately describe the amount of work that goes into maintaining a barn of horses.  To illustrate my point, let me describe my day today.

I farewelled my coach at around 7:30 this morning as she packed up and left, and took the time to have breakfast before barn chores, which was a bit of a luxury.  I then commenced with the usual – soaking two feeds and bringing in the horses that live outside, turning out our horses, delegating the feeding of the hay, mucking the stalls, dumping and re-filling water buckets, adding fresh shavings and hay, sweeping the aisle, making up and administering morning medications for the outside horses, changing their blankets, turning them out, and finally, going over the barn and cleaning up the tack room.  Other tasks this morning included raking the front of the barn aisle and refilling water troughs (kindly done by one of my helpers for the day), and mucking the paddocks – the most hated of all barn chores.  We then tackled the hay shed, cleaning up the loose hay suitable for feeding and throwing out the soiled/sandy hay that the dogs had been using as their own personal bathroom.

So finally, at around lunch time, we could begin the riding.  First up was the Sweetie, who performed admirably on the flat, if a little fresh.  Then was a walk hack with the Rock and two other horses that competed on the weekend, before I headed to the other barn for one last hack on the exceptional Timaru – one of my personal favourites who has just upgraded to Preliminary and is doing spectacularly!

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Timaru!

And the plan is to get up and do it all again tomorrow, except we have some canter sets on our to-do list! Stay tuned 🙂

Insanity in the middle

Yesterday, the Sweetie had her first cross country school! It was very exciting and so much fun – we jumped a tonne of small fences and only had one stop at a super scary barrel jump, which she then jumped super the next time.  It was awesome.

Today, I had a killer dressage lesson, hacked a lovely mare, then rode the Rock and the Sweetie.  I also got featured on Eventing Nation. You can read my article right here. 🙂

At C, track left

I’ve been doing a lot of dressage lately.  I used to really like dressage.  Now I absolutely love it.  I constantly rave about the mare I have the privilege of riding, but it’s well deserved, she’s a super horse that makes dressage a true pleasure.  (Note: I didn’t say easy – just enjoyable.)  We have been working towards an event here in Aiken (which now looks like a combined test since I don’t have the necessary memberships to compete at a recognised USEA/USEF event), and so we are working on a Novice test.  Being a super smart savvy mare, the Rock knows as soon as you go up center line that you’re doing a test, and therefore gets pretty excited to show off all her moves.  It makes halting at X a little tough, and picking up the reins after a long walk even tougher, and getting the right bend in the canter without switching leads even tougher still, but I am enjoying every minute of it.

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We’ve been enjoying some pleasant warm weather lately, and making the most of if by hacking around the property later in the evening… bareback! I hadn’t ridden the Rock bareback before, and thought I’d try.  She’s not comfortable, but turns out walk/canter transitions are way easier without a saddle.

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Dressage is also proceeding apace with Sweetie, the paint project.  She is a super sensitive ride, and not necessarily a traditional one, which makes every ride a tough but rewarding one.  As a bit of a break yesterday, five of us headed out on a hack with no real plan.  So a walk turned into a trot, which turned into a canter… and as I manoeuvred the little paint mare around the back of the group, I saw a gap between the two front horses and went for it.  She positively flew between the two horses and galloped out in front.  We’d definitely started something, because seconds later everyone was tearing past us galloping down the sandy road and the race was on!  The rest of the hack was a little more subdued, apart from a run in with some cows…

We had two horses compete Advanced-Intermediate at Full Gallop Farm yesterday, which was great to go and watch.  Since they only decided to run in the first two phases, we were all done by 10am, and ready to go back and ride ourselves.  It was a shame they didn’t run the XC phase, since they were placed 1st and 2nd respectively after the show jumping.

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Irish Rhythm turns on the charm.

Three of us had a group jumping lesson that afternoon, tackling the “Circle of Death” for the second time, with definite improvement on my part.  Just when I thought I’d nailed it, and we were done, I looked over to see the jumps being raised, and off we went again.  Still not perfect, but a great exercise that has made a huge improvement in my riding.

Daylight savings has kicked in and we are loving having more light in the days – the horses can stay out longer, and now we sometimes have time in the afternoon to relax outside with a drink – not a bad view, if I do say so myself 😉

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After the storm

So we survived the ice storm and regained power after four days of “roughing it” (read: barbecuing instead of using the oven), and we are back to the normal schedule of training and competing.  Oh, except we had a tornado warning several days later.  (Aiken, are you kidding me?)

Several of our horses scratched from the last event, which was at Paradise Farm, and so they are all getting ready for Sporting Days this weekend.  We had two horses run in the Advanced division at Pine Top and one in the Training, which was a long but great weekend.  I tagged along with my coach as she walked her Advanced XC course, as it’s always great to see how she figures the course and plans her ride – although I’ll never get used to how casually she approaches something like a huge coop down a steep hill to a one stride angled brush.

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Deja Vu tackles the first water

As far as my own riding is concerned, this week held a new and very challenging jumping exercise – termed by my roommate as the Circle of Death.  It’s a classic exercise that we watched some of the Canadian short listed riders school during a team training camp coached by Clayton Fredericks.

Irish Rhythm and co-pilot take in some instruction.

Irish Rhythm and his co-pilot take some instruction during the team clinic.

My own attempts at the Circle of Death (which involves cantering in a circle with four poles/small fences evenly spaced, in an attempt to get an even amount of strides between the fences) were much less impressive, and much more frustrating.  Who knew it was so hard to control the canter over such small fences?) Despite the frustrations, it was a great gymnastic lesson that left us both lathered in sweat and ready for bed.

Not my best lesson.

Not an easy lesson, but an important one.

Apart from being annihilated by jumping exercises, I’ve been keeping busy hacking out horses, pulling manes (I have now been designated the barn’s official mane puller), and, of course, mucking paddocks.  The weather has been absolutely beautiful, and we’ve all been enjoying riding in t-shirts again.

Three amigos out for a hack.

Three amigos out for a hack, post-ice storm.

And finally, some exciting news is that we have a new addition to the barn here in the form of Sweet(ie), a little paint mare who is here for training.  With my boss away the day after she arrived, I got a phone call asking me to lunge the mare, and if she behaved, to get on and ride her through walk trot and canter.  So I lunge the mare who proves perfect if a little fresh, and decide I can get on. We walk around and it becomes apparent that Sweetie doesn’t really understand the concept of going on the bit, accepting the contact and coming through from behind.  I have my work cut out for me, I think, until I figure out how quickly this little mare learns.  She picks things up almost instantly, and tries her heart out.  After a few schools she has improved dramatically, and has now become my own little project, under close instruction from my coach.  She really is very sweet, and I can’t wait to see what else she can do with what we throw at her!

Such a Sweetie!

Such a Sweetie!

And last but not least, in a very exciting turn of events, my blog and working student adventures are going to be featured as part of Eventing Nation‘s Working Student Diaries section!  I’m currently constructing an article for them about my working student story, and look forward to seeing it online soon! Watch this space 😉

Ice, ice, baby

For the past few weeks, we’d been making fun of the communal panic that swept Aiken whenever there was a winter storm warning.  A few days ago, we discovered exactly why people freaked out so much.

For those of you who haven’t heard, most of South Carolina is currently recovering from a severe ice storm battering.  I awoke on Wednesday morning to sleet and freezing rain, which quickly formed resulted in a decent layer of ice on, well, pretty much everything.  As we turned out the first lot of horses, we got as far as the paddock gate before I conceded that I had to go back and get a hammer to release the chain holding it closed.  It was a similar story with the halters on the gate of the two horses that live out – some serious ice removal had to happen before we could get those halters on.

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So we mucked out as normal in the freezing temperatures, using scissors instead of a Stanley knife to open bales of hay and bags of shavings (our knife had, of course, frozen over so we couldn’t slide the blade out).  Luckily we didn’t dump the water buckets before we realised that our power had gone out, and therefore, we also had no water supply. So the delightful task of hauling water up the icy slope from the paddocks to fill water buckets and soak feeds began.  We negotiated the icy tree-strewn roads to seek out a hot breakfast and some power points at the closest Huddle House before stocking up on water and lighters and heading back. By mid-day, we had a fairly impressive array of icicles on pretty well everything.

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We opted to spend the night at a friend’s house who had power and a fireplace, which was great until his power shut off around 1am yesterday morning.  So we packed up, drove back to take care of the horses, and then headed out in search of food and petrol to run the generator we had just accumulated.  And what a drive – trees were bent over, fallen down or snapped in half, power lines were down in yards and across roads, and everywhere, the ice was beginning to fall.  The highways were ploughed but too late for some of the cars and semis we saw in the ditches on the side of the roads.  Petrol stations became places of refuge.  The one Waffle House that was open between Aiken and Columbia became a tin of sardines.

2 hours later, on the south side of Columbia, we were forced to admit defeat on the food front, having only filled up on petrol.  So we drove back to Aiken and joined the throngs of people who had started venturing out once they heard that various lifelines such as McDonalds and IHOP were open.  By this time, the ice was starting to melt in a big way, and driving downtown to rescue some frozen food from a client without power, we saw the worst of it.  The beautiful historical south boundary road, once lined with old oak trees had become a tunnel of fallen branches, trees bent or snapped in half.  Power lines dangled across the roads that weren’t completely closed off by fallen trees. Lights and shop fronts were dark, and people wandered around or drove their four-wheelers, looking at the damage.  We were glad to make it back to the barn, which thankfully has no trees nearby any of the buildings, but disappointed to learn our power was still out. With our bathtub full of water to flush the toilet running low, and water troughs for the horses dipping below the 1/3 mark, things were starting to get drastic.  Watching the ice melt off the roof of the barn, I was hit by a drop of water – and a stroke of genius. Soon every available bucket we had was sitting under the eaves collecting the falling drops, and not long after that, all our horses had full buckets in their stalls.

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Who knew we owned so many buckets?

Despite our lack of power, we had a great dinner and settled in to watch the Olympics, courtesy of our new loaned generator.  Although the ice re-froze last night, we had minimal problems this morning, although the lack of power and water is getting a little old.  Here’s hoping it comes back on today!

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